Erin Griffith of Pandodaily fame brings up a great point with her article “The Year Nobody ‘Won’ SXSW“:
“I can’t see myself using Highlight when I’m back and not in constant networking/socializing mode. I’d use it at a social function if I recognized someone I knew but couldn’t remember how. The problem is that that someone I recognized would also need to have Highlight and also have it running. Some believe that Highlight’s ability to remember connections, mutual friends, and things in common gives it the potential to replace business cards. Again, that requires everyone I might ever exchange info with to have Highlight.”
And it’s all too true. As much as I love all these wonderful, amazing apps that are coming from top notch developers, it’s hard to engage with my friends on Twitter, let alone Foursquare. Twitter has ended up becoming a way for me to (potentially) interact with all of my idols in blogging, but really, it is pretty much a one-way communication device – from them to me and the masses. Of course, they have their conversations with their famous friends, but I feel on the fringe, or as if I’m reading a celebrity gossip magazine as the story unfolds. And if it isn’t drama on Twitter (mostly thanks to Paul), then I use it simply as a way to aggregate all of my favorite content into one neat place (Silver Bird for Chrome is a top notch RSS feed). The best part is that I get to interact with it, even if it’s only ever so slightly in the form of a RT.
But as far as having meaningful conversations with my friends over Twitter? Almost nonexistent. Granted, traveling to the East coast, there are definitely groups of friends that are on Twitter, and use it nonstop. But from my own experience, it’s small pockets here and there. It would be fascinating to look at a connectivity map, but I imagine that a majority of Twitter users either only receive information (RSS feed style) or have groups of ~20 friends they interact with relatively frequently.
Unfortunately, I’m in the former group for the most part, and this is with Twitter, which was the breakout hit of SXSW all of THREE years ago now. And it still hasn’t penetrated my friends group. The masses. Despite the fact many have iPhones, and have Twitter baked right in, or readily accessible via Android. While the reasons vary drastically from “don’t feel like it” to “it’s too narcissistic” to “I already have Facebook for that”, the fact is that I can’t use Twitter with my friends.
So when I see these stories about Highlight, Glancee, and the 8437503 or so other location-aware-always-on-sharing-caring-magical apps..I know I’ll never get to use them the way they were intended. Maybe I’ll have that one oddball fellow who uses it, but it’s meant to organize many contacts, and keep those many contacts straight. I don’t need an app for keeping the few that do use Highlight/etc. in my head. And I certainly don’t need another app to drain my battery, that ever so precious commodity on a college campus where you’re stuck 8+ hours of the day always on the go.
The problem is exactly as Erin points it out:
“The best way to get a blogger interested in something is to keep it a secret from them. The rest of the story, you know. That may be the case, but this is one category that, if it works, will take off like a slow burn and not a SXSW-fueled wildfire.”
Replace “blogger” with college student. I can imagine that Highlight would be IMMENSELY useful on my college campus of 25,000+ undergraduates. I meet so many people over the course of the year, that it’s incredibly hard to keep them all straight, and all too often I have to avoid the first names to play it cool when I get a “Hey Robert!”
No, I’m not famous like this guy.. And yet, that’s exactly the use case I see Highlight fitting best in. Not for the 22+ aged individuals who are already integrated into the working life and working with the same 20 or so individuals every day. Nor is it necessarily for the 18- crowd who has been going to school with the same group of friends all throughout their careers. The perfect place for Highlight is for the highly networked individual and the budding networkers in college. And those budding networkers aren’t just the geeks/fraternity/sorority people – but for those that might want to find a classmate who’s interested in studying right after class, or wants to do a spontaneous meetup.
SXSW is great for showcasing an app’s usefulness – in fact, it is often the ideal which an app hopes to achieve, and for better or worse, it achieves that ideal use case. Hence, the immense hype when an app achieves this ideal. But for the 99% of us who don’t go to SXSW, that is not our reality, and we will never experience that ideal use case.
How can Highlight, and all these other apps released at SXSW, fix this problem?
By igniting the “slow burn” of adoption the way Facebook did way back when – through colleges.
Go to campus. Market it to social clubs where networking is key, and get these clubs all on board to use the app. Give out sponsorships to clubs that use it successfully and get X amount of people to start using your app. Show off these use cases and how clubs can maximize the app’s potential, all for their benefit. Heck, go into classrooms and show off how your app can make spontaneous study sessions before a midterm not just a possibility, but a probability. Maybe even market it to the Associated Student body, and make it an integral part of their political campaigns as they all start running for office to ignite usage.
So forget the non-realistic bliss of tech nerd-dom that is a place like SXSW, and go for where you’ll actually get traction.
Then maybe, just maybe, more of my non-techie friends will start using all the cool apps I read about on a daily basis, and I can start to have a much more meaningful, efficient, and promising social-app driven social experience.
Bonus: market your app as a potential drinking game in a totally under the radar sort of way. That’ll ensure it goes viral.